"For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) at His coming? For you are our glory and joy" (1 Thess.2:18-20, NKJV).
To be a Christian means many things, but to have this parental joy that Paul expresses in this our opening passage is surely the apex of the Christian experience - to know that those whom we have nurtured in the faith will be there, amongst the redeemed, when Yah'shua (Jesus) returns. There is the joy of personal salvation - which is the salvation of sons and daughters - but there is yet a greater joy that is the salvation of those whom we spiritually nurture - the salvation of spiritual fathers and mothers. So Paul would also say: "Therefore, my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, beloved" (Phil.4:1, NKJV) and "brethren, in all our affliction and distress we were comforted concerning you by your faith. For now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord" (1 Thess.3:7-9, NKJV). "For this reason, when I could no longer endure it, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter had tempted you, and our labour might be in vain" (1 Thess.3:5, NKJV).
Fifty years ago it was normal for young people to dream of, and prepare for, marriage and family. Today, however, families are near the bottom of people's list of priorities, something to possibly be considered after personal and career ambitions have been met. The thought of being a parent horrifies those women who worship their bodies - and the men who worship the women - for fear that they will irreparably lose their figures once they get pregnant. And what we have is a world full of overgrown sons and daughters who think little of the glory and joy of either marriage or parenthood. These things, indeed, have been progressively devalued over the last two generations.
Parenthood - whether biological or spiritual - means responsibility, and people have been taught to fear responsibility. They have been taught, instead, to be hedonists and pleasure-seekers. Yes, most people love to look at, and enjoy, a baby gurgling and smiling. True, people enjoy and admire a well brought-up child. The problem is they neither want the responsibility, commitment nor sacrifice that is involved in making happy babies and raising good and honourable citizens - they would rather someone else did it. Yes, parenthood is a struggle, but it is its own reward. And that was what Paul was spontaneously conveying in the passages of scripture I have quoted today. There is a joy in parenting which is the apex of all joys, because it is the joy of our Heavenly Father Himself as He watches us overcome and become whole. People want to know God but forget He is a Father Himself, and you cannot know your Heavenly Father until you have become a father yourself. The bottom line is this: a fullness of joy comes only through successful parenting.
Last week we looked at spiritual parenting. We have come to understand that the person who struggles in love to re-parent another person finally comes to see Yahweh's tremendous love for him as He wooed him so patiently. It is only through a love for souls do we come to know our Father in Heaven who loved us so greatly that He sent His son to make the ultimate sacrifice for us (Jn.3:16), delivering us from Hades and aeons of needless suffering caused by our own selfishness. Until a person has started parenting others in spirit he will be unable to give more than lip service to the sacrifices Yah'shua (Jesus) made in loving us to life. Only when we discover that cost to Yah'shua (Jesus) by wringing our own hearts for others, can we truly fall on our knees, bursting with gratitude that He did not give up on us when at that critical moment He asked Yahweh that the cup be taken from Him (Mt.26:39ff). From this we learn a key truth: the healer is more healed in resurrecting the slumbering spirit of another than the slumberer himself. Truly "it is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35, NKJV), to which I would add, from my own experience, that self-service never really brings happiness.
Slumbering spirits are awakened by the sacrificial love of a few and the support of the Messianic Community (Church). Without the Body, the labour is too heavy and the dangers of fastening idolatrously too great. That is why Yahweh has given the Messianic Community (Church) the fivefold ministry of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers, and indeed the whole body of believers itself "till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head -- Christ ..." (Eph.4:13-15, NKJV).
Those who are against 'organised religion' and against 'church' are condemning themselves to a life of spiritual immaturity and continued bondage to sin because they have no mirrors to see but their own reflections. Such before long grow in conceit and pride and are misled by seducing spirits into thinking they are self-sufficient even if parts of them know things are not right. You see, you can't be your own parent - never - we weren't built that way. Overcoming that arrogant spirit of self-sufficiency is one of the first signs of spiritual wisdom in a soul.
Today, as I promised last week, I want to take a closer took at bitterroot judgment and the spirit of expectancy which is commonly a cause of people trying to do things alone but also the main cause of spiritual bondage that they find themselves in. This is such a prevalent malady, in fact, that addressing it solves, in my experience, a whole host of other problems simultaneously.
There are three scriptures that will help us understand this phenomenon so let's go straight to the first one now:
"Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking diligently lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled" (Heb.12:14-15, NKJV).
Or as one modern version nicely puts it, "Watch out that no bitterness takes root among you, for as it springs up it causes deep trouble, hurting many in their spiritual lives" (v.15, TEV). I would go ever further than this paraphrase by saying this: those who harbour any root of bitterness not only cripple themselves spiritually but make life for those who live around them miserable as well. This bitterness is resentment against others for real or imaginary things done against you - and it doesn't matter whether you have been wronged or think you have been wronged, for so long as you harbour a root of bitterness against someone, however evil they may be, that bitterness will destroy you and pollute the spiritual atmosphere around you, making you repulsive and unattractive to others no matter how well you may believe you are composing yourself or keeping your resentments hidden. Holding resentments against others is not at all unlike regularly swallowing small quantities of arsenic - you are slowly poisoning yourself to death.
The solution that Paul gives in this passage is simple - it is to pursue peace with all people, even if they do not reciprocate your good will. This does not mean you should compromise your values or indulge in sin - that is not what shalom or true peace is, something I talked about in a sermon a few weeks ago. The peace we pursue is the wholeness of the Gospel, which is why Paul added that we should pursue holiness at the same time. Or as the modern version puts it: "Try to stay out of quarrels and seek to live a clean and holy life, for one who is not holy will not see the Lord" (v.14, TEV). Don't forget that - if you want to see Yahweh - to meet Him and to know Him - the first rule of thumb is to pursue shalom and holiness. Quarreling will never accomplish it, and bitterness will guarantee that you do not.
But how do bitterroots become established? What spiritual laws operate that leave us defiled, and repel others, when we harbour bitterness in our hearts? That brings us to our second scripture and the words of the Master Himself:
"For in the same way as you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you" (Matt.7:2, NIV).
Two important points I want to make about this scripture. First, it is not saying that we should never judge, for elsewhere Yah'shua (Jesus) says we should judge righteously (Jn.7:24); second, it is not only saying that the way you treat others is the way you will be treated in return. What this passage contains is a spiritual law which is telling you that there is a cause-and-effect for everything we do. Put simply, it is saying this: if you bless others, you set into motion a law that will result in your being blessed in return. And if you curse others, you set in motion that same law and will yourself be cursed. Paul puts this in another way: "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap" (Gal.6:7, NKJV). This applies not only to your behaviour in the outer world but concerns what happens inside you as well. That is why Yah'shua (Jesus) taught us in the Golden Rule to love others as you love yourself (Mt.22:39) because the two are inseparable. You can't hate yourself and love your neighbour - impossible! You can't hate your neighbour and love yourself - impossible! And if you don't believe me, try it out sometime. On second thoughts, don't - there's a better way - love your neighbour, love your enemies and those who despitefully use you, and love your self in the same way (Mt.5:43-48).
Remember, we are not saying that you should love the evil that your enemy or neighbour does, but that you should love him as a person. That means accepting him as one who is being offered the same salvation as you are - the same grace, the same life - if only he will accept it. It means treating him as an equal, not as someone to look down on, despise, condemn ... or even hate. That's not an option for a believer. For the moment you hate, despise, or condemn a person as a person, you despise, condemn and hate yourself as a person too, for you are both children of God, even if he be separated from God by a lack of faith and you are not. When you do these things - when you hate, despise or condemn others - you create a root of bitterness in yourself that will grow as a cancer. That root of bitterness will change your personality, however much you try to suppress or hide it, because it will always spring back and alter your mood to a dark one. Worse, the moment you admit bitterness into your heart, you invite one or more demons with it, because hate, bitterness, resentment and evil is what they are, and like attracts like. When you hate a person you break a spiritual law, whether you like that or not, and you give demons legal grounds to share your body, your mind, your feelings, your moods, and your essential self with them. Do you swing from one mood to another like a pendulum? If you do, it is more than likely that you have a bitterroot within you. It is more than likely that you not only have a civil war raging inside you but that you have spiritual invaders inside you too.
People get into all sorts of destructive spirals because of bitterroot judgments. Yet it is totally unnecessary. Better still, it is easily cured! Moreover, you don't need hours and hours of complicated psychotherapy, you need only one principle. The cure may be gradual or instant, depending how much trust you will put in the truth that Yahweh has revealed for all mankind in His Word. You decide your own recovery rate by your own faith or lack of faith. The principle that leads to spiritual health, the demolishing of the roots of bitterness, the expulsion of demons, and shalom within your soul rests on one word: forgiveness. I have said it before and I will probably repeat it liberally hundreds of times every year for the rest of my life. It is the golden key of deliverance that wise people seize hungrily and gratefully, and which the foolish despise. And like a key in a door it has two motions, and they are these:
And it has to be in this order. There is no other order. Yah'shua (Jesus) taught the universal Prayer of prayers or 'Lord's Prayer' and in it we are to pray: "Forgive us our sins, just as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us" (Mt.6:12, TEV).
Christians talk about the great power that comes into their lives as a result of trusting in Christ. And it's true, only they seem to miss the fact that the greatest power that Yahweh has given us through Christ is the power to forgive sin - not our own sins, but the sins that others commit against us. Only when we have forgiven everyone for every sin they have committed against us, can we approach Yah'shua (Jesus) to have our own sins blotted out. Yah'shua (Jesus) only forgives us our sins conditionally - on the condition that we forgive our wrongdoers. Never forget that. Without turning this key, you remain cut off from God, because so long as you are in sin, you cannot get right with Him, or receive His shalom.
This is not a small matter. It is the key to life and to salvation which is why it has to be repeated again and again. Nobody needs to be miserable however bad their external circumstances are. Better, nobody ever needs to live in fear of death or what will meet them when they pass over to the other side of mortality, if only they will trust and confess Christ and forgive everyone who has ever wronged them. This is simple enough for even a child to understand. Only fear, pride, and a lack of faith really ever stand in the way of anybody's deliverance and salvation.
I want to conclude today by looking at one last aspect of bitterroot judgment and probably the most common one of all, and that is the bitterness that results when we judge others for not fulfilling our expectations. Next week I will look in more detail at the mechanisms involved but for now I want to keep things as simple as possible.
As a species, we are a very greedy and demanding lot. Bitterroots can build up gradually by having false expectations of people, and then reacting in resentment when those expectations are not fulfilled. I hope this simple story will illustrate what I mean.
Jim wants to be an engineer. His father wants him to be a businessman like himself so that his son can inherit his business. The father's the son's conflicting expectaions create tension and bitterness but the son holds his ground. Resentment is slowly building up and a spiritual wall of partition is coming into place. The two are not communicating. The father is denying his son's free agency because of his manner - his unyielding forcefulness and expectation. Finally, it is time for the son to go to college, but he has no money. His father wants pay for him to go to business school but not to university to train as an engineer. The son has no choice as he has no money and cannot borrow any, so he accepts his father's offer. He trains to be a businessman even though he hates it, swearing he will train as an engineer when he has his own means to do so later. Throughout this period the spirit of resentment, anger and hatred are building up in the boy until he cannot stand the sight of his father. He is literally possessed by an inner rage. The day comes when he has graduated and worked some years with his father in his business, pampered and spoiled, given a high position of responsibility. He decides he will resign and go and train as an engineer. His father is enraged. He says things like: "After all I have done for you - all the money I have spent on you - is this how you show your gratitude?" The boy is torn by emotional blackmail inside but leaves nonetheless. The relationship has now completely broken down. He is free from his father's overbearing tyranny and control as he launches out into his own life, but inside him is a deep, deep root of bitterness which is destroying him inside and spoiling his relationships with other people. Perhaps one day he kills his father in a fit of anger and indignation at his treatment as his father turns on the pressure again - such things happen. And it all starts with a false expectation.
This kind of scenario is very, very common even though it may manifest in different ways: people forced into marriages against their will; mothers who won't let sons grow up or leave home, because they are living in the past. There are thousands of ways in which bitterroots can form. And they ruin lives.
It may even have been that Yahweh wanted the son to be a businessman but could never love the calling because of his father's unrighteous expectations. Can you imagine the difficulties a man might have in reconciling Yahweh's call after so much abuse? And yet that's the miracle. By inviting Yah'shua (Jesus) into our hearts and forgiving those who wrong us, our whole perspective of things can be turned upside down. There are people who hate Christ and Christianity because their parents tried to ram religion down their throats. Their anxiety that their children not be lost can lead Christians to sin terribly and so actually make things worse. As a parent I make sure that I teach the truth and live my life in the best way I can as an example, no matter my weaknesses, faults and limitations, and I leave my children to decide for themselves. It is a hard thing to do respecting free agency but if you don't you will destroy them and create bitterroot judgments in them. Only those who are in Christ, and in a personal relationship with Him, have the power to resist the temptation to hate and resent, and so remain in shalom and grace. That is why we need Him so terribly badly. Whoever you are, and whatever your circumstances, you are going to meet people who have false expectations and who may put pressure on you to break the commandments or walk a path you know you must not take. The temptation to resent and hate them will be strong, for that is the reflexive response of the carnal nature. And once resentment builds up, people can end up doing bad things they come to bitterly regret for the rest of their lives.
A wise person who lives in the shalom of Christ knows that he must respect the free choice of others however passionately he may disagree with them. He knows he must do his best to influence change for the best, but in order to maintain trust and respect, he must do so non-intrusively, otherwise he will simply provoke rebellion and alienation. There are a 101 things I would like to change in my immediate environment but many things prevent me from fulfilling my hopes and dreams, some of my own making, and some of others'. Life is complicated and lonely outside Yahweh and His Torah. In Him, life has structure, simplicity, coherence and - most important of all - grace.
And what is grace? Grace is the undeserved loving kindness that Yahweh shows to us, and the undeserved loving kindness we show to others when He dwells in our hearts. Grace accepts that there are certain things we cannot change, however much we might like to, and rests peacefully in that knowledge. Grace is not fretful and anxious because of what we cannot do. And as we get older, the list of things we want to do, but can't, gets longer and longer. Grace focusses instead on the things we can do and enables us to find complete contentment and happiness in those few things. Whatever our circumstances, whatever our needs, whatever our limitations, we have, in Christ, the capacity and the grace to live full and completely satisfying mental, emotional and spiritual lives. And the way we are enabled to do that is by not holding expectations that are out of the will of Yahweh. Simple as that.
The power and love of Christ is such that those who seem to be irreconcilably separated can be brought together in shalom, like the estranged father and son in the story I shared. I know it, I have seen it. Yah'shua (Jesus) tells us the story of the prodigal son (Lk.15:11-32) who unfortunately had to learn the hard way, as did the Israelites in the desert. The difficulty or ease with which you are reconciled with God, with your family and friends, and with yourself, is predicated upon your willingness to let go of expectations, resentments and hatred, and to walk in the truth. Then a miracle can begin in your life. Then you can walk a life where new miracles come your way like a never-ending river. Then you don't have to live in fear of anything or anyone, but solely in love and grace. Amen.